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30 Days of Gamemastering: Part Six

October 7, 2013

This is part six in the continuing series of posts for the “30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge” from Triple Crit.

Worldbuilding–What’s Your Process

One of my favorite things to do as a gamemaster is build a new campaign world. I have so much fun with creating history, religions, and such. Furthermore, the work tends to inspire the creation of NPCs and adventures along the way. When I’m getting started, I usually begin with the religions of the world. One, because I find creating mythologies fun. Two, and at the risk of starting a “chicken and egg” argument, religion often informs culture. So if I have religious beliefs and practices already in place, it helps when I go in to create the cultures of various regions later. I also tend to “aggressively borrow” ideas from history and mythology to create my cultures, but try to give them enough of a twist so that I’m not playing in a historical campaign. If I decide that my world will have the influences of a dead empire (like the Roman empire in medieval times), what if that empire was more Eastern-based than Western? What if I have a single, all-powerful church (like the Catholic church in medieval times) but give them a unique take on magic? You get the idea…

After religion, I usually like to go into history. How did the existing nations come to be? This also usually informs culture. If a country is constantly wracked by civil wars, how stable would its culture be? How pragmatic or cynical or complacent would the populace tend to be? If a country has been relatively peaceful and stable, how would the citizenry pass the time? If one country is now confined to the remnants of a past empire, how would its culture have influenced the cultures of other countries? That sort of thing. Once again, I like to look at history and then spin it to create something unique. In this way, it’s familiar enough to the players so that they can get a grip on it but new enough to keep things interesting.

With these two starting points, I usually generate enough ideas for the “present” state of the world. Then I flesh out with the little details. I’ve gotten to where I take a look at some of the Wikipedia entries on various countries to get a sense of what kind of details I need to flesh out. What is the economy like? What is the type of government? What are some of the customs? Then I create my “entry” on my own wiki–either in note form or on Obsidian Portal. By the time I’m done, I have enough of a picture of what this region is all about to move forward and use it as a setting.

One thing I’ve learned is to get enough details to paint a proper picture, but don’t plan out every little detail. Some things will come out in play–new ideas will come to you or to your players as you go and you want room enough to incorporate without painting yourself into a corner. Just like adventure building, world building can be a bit of a sandbox. Let your players participate in it when they can. If they come up with good questions or good answers to those questions, roll with it. It only makes your world and your campaign richer.

What about you? What’s your process? How do you build your campaign worlds?

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